Rap and Hip Hop started out as black New York underground movements at the start of the 1980s, but by the end of the decade had infiltrated pop, cross-bred with heavy metal, installed itself in the charts, dominated dance, and totally taken over the fashion world with an explosion of tracksuits, trainers and back to front baseball caps.
The music was developed as DJs came up with ways to blend records together so as not to stop the flow of dancing, and made new sounds by manipulating and ‘scratching’ the records on the turntables.
The DJs teamed up with MCs (such as MC Hammer) who added words – a combination of bragging and descriptions of ghetto life. There had been nothing like the rapidly chanted, rhythmical “street poetry” on the pop/rock scene before, and listeners were quickly divided as to whether they loved it or loathed it.
In 1979, the Sugar Hill Gang (a Bronx group) scored a major success with Rapper’s Delight and black American music would never be the same again.
Essentially a re-hash of Chic‘s Good Times, it announced the commercial arrival of hip hop, a sort of hybrid DIY funk that involved talking in rhyme (albeit sometimes badly) over drastic re-edits of samples from other people’s records.
LL Cool J – which modestly stood for Ladies Love Cool James – released his debut album in 1985. In November the following year, a fight broke out during his show in Baltimore and three people were shot.
The indiscriminate ‘sampling’ (lets be old-fashioned and call it theft) of other people’s records was tested in 1986 when former James Brown sideman Bobby Byrd took Eric B and Rakim to court, objecting to their use of part of I Know You Got Soul on their debut album Paid In Full without permission (or royalties).
Meanwhile, Run DMC began a trend by signing a six-figure sponsorship deal with Adidas sports shoes. In September 1986 they also became the first rap act to go platinum with their album Raising Hell. Their cross-over breakthrough came with the rap-metal single Walk This Way, a cover of a nine-year-old Aerosmith song.
In March 1987, License To Ill by the Beastie Boys, became the first rap album to top the US charts. It was originally to be titled Don’t Be A Faggot but was wisely toned down.
Their second album, It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, went platinum. As did NWA‘s debut Straight Outta Compton – the forerunner of controversial gangsta rap, the subject of endless media exposure.
As their album went up the charts, the tough-talking band was the subject of an FBI investigation. Meanwhile, in 1988, Tone Loc’s Wild Thing became the biggest-selling rap single ever, selling three million copies.
‘Gangsta Rap’ did exceptionally well in the early 90s, thanks to albums like Dr Dre’s The Chronic, Cypress Hill’s Black Sunday, Snoop Doggy Dogg’s Doggy Style and Ice Cube’s Lethal Injection.